One of Nebraska’s most important offseason additions didn’t arrive on campus until mid-May. Unlike fellow FCS specialist transfer Brian Buschini, Timmy Bleekrode was still finishing up his work at Furman during Nebraska’s spring ball.
But Bleekrode he doesn’t feel like he’s having to play much catch-up.
“As a kicker, our job is just to hit it through the goal posts; punter, just punt it in whatever direction they call, so I wouldn’t say I was behind on anything,” Bleekrode said. “It’s just getting accustomed to practice and everything, which has been going really well.”
Bleekrode connected on 21 of his 25 field goal attempts and 46 of his 50 extra points in two season’s as Furman’s starting kicker. He said he’s been focused this offseason on becoming more consistent with his ball-striking, and Nebraska special teams coordinator Bill Busch’s extremely detailed practice schedule is helping him do that.
“They have a 24-period outlay of what they’re doing every single second,” Busch said. “The big thing is, whatever you’re doing for us, you don’t kick kicks or punts at a half mode. It’s full speed, game mode.”
Bleekrode said it isn’t like that most places; usually, kickers spend a lot of time off on their own.
“We’re getting work on things kickers might usually forget to do on a day-by-day basis,” Bleekrode said. “So it’s been good with him.”
Busch also provided the Huskers specialists with an opportunity to work with some former Husker greats this offseason to pick their brains. The Huskers worked a specialist’s camp with Bratt Maher, Alex Henery and Sam Koch, and Maher spent some time working with them individually as well this summer.
“He didn’t so much try to change anything we were doing, but kind of just watching his routine was very helpful for me,” Bleekrode said. “Getting an inside scoop on his mentality and how he approaches kicking was really interesting. It was good work with him over the summer.”
Bleekrode said the biggest thing he took away from Maher is how consistent he is in what he does and how confident he is in his craft, and the results reflected that.
Fruman’s stadium holds about 16,000, so kicking at Nebraska in front of a 90,000-seat stadium is going to be a whole new experience. He said the largest crowd he’d ever kicked in front of before was when Furman went to North Carolina State last season; Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh holds just under 58,000.
“Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect, what it was going to be like, but once I got out there, I’m just so locked into the play I don’t even factor in the crowd or anything,” Bleekrode said. “So it was good experience for me, having that game.”
Bleekrode said tuning out his surroundings “just kind of happens.”
“You get tunnel vision when you’re out there,” Bleekrode said. “I know what I have to focus on and the kick, so I just focus on the things I need to do. It’s kind of like even with no crowd, I don’t even recognize the team on the other side of the ball coming around. A lot of times it looks close, but you’re so dialed in to the kick you don’t really notice anything else.”
That being said, the newcomer is still doing everything he can to familiarize himself with his new home stadium. The kickers spend some time in Memorial Stadium on every practice day, and sometimes non-practice days as well.
“We try to get into the stadium every day and do some [individual] work out there,” Bleekrode said. “We’ve been doing well. It’s a little different out there compared to the indoor with a little bit of wind. We’re just working hashes out there to get as comfortable as possible for the season.”
Bleekrode isn’t just a place kicker, however. He also spent that past two seasons as Furman’s punter and was second-team all-conference in the SoCon both years. While he’s focused primarily on kicking, he still hops in for one rep during every punting drill to maintain that versatility.
Buschini is the reining FCS Punter of the Year after averaging 46.0 yards per punt last season at Montana. Neither of the transfer specialists is one-dimensional, though, as Buschini also works with the holders.
“We have several holders we work,” Busch said. “It’s always great to have your punter be the holder for all the reps they can get during practice. Back in the day when you’d have your quarterback or wide receiver or whatever as your holder, they’re doing their stuff all day where we get to go out and they’re going to be able to get the reps all practice long. That’s why you see Sam Koch is the holder for them. It’s just a multitude of reps that they get is so huge.”
The extra reps have provided Bleekrode and Buschini to develop plenty of chemistry already.
“I love working with Brian,” Bleekrode said. “He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met on a football field. He’s very careful in his craft. And holding also, he’s been as perfect as I want him to be. I have complete confidence in him and the long snappers. He spins it every time, so I don’t worry about him.”
Scott Frost is hoping he doesn’t have to worry about either of his specialists this season. Bleekrode may not have arrived in time to go through spring ball like Buschini did, but he’s hit the ground running and is making up for the lost time thanks to Busch’s detailed schedule. Nebraska has a lot riding on the two transfers, and they’re putting in the work during fall camp to live up to those expectations.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.